Villa Rides! Blu-ray Review

Robert Mitchum and Yul Brynner lead this historical epic about Pancho Villa

Robert Mitchum, Yul Brynner, and a young Charles Bronson star in Villa Rides! A sprawling adventure movie focused on Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa. Buzz Kulik directs from a screenplay co-written by Sam Peckinpah and legendary Hollywood writer Robert Towne (Chinatown).

Based on the novel by Williams Douglas Lansford and featuring a score by Oscar-winning composer Maurice Jarre, Villa Rides! is predictable Hollywood entertainment glamorizing Pancho Villa’s status as a folk hero in Mexico. Given its Hollywood talent and pedigree, the movie ends up being less than the sum of its parts. Mitchum and Brynner give solid performances as veteran stars but are both outdone by Charles Bronson in one of his earlier roles.

American pilot Lee Arnold (Robert Mitchum) gets caught up in Pancho Villa’s revolution running guns across the Mexican border. Yul Brynner plays the famous Mexican leader and revolutionary in a performance that captures the different facets of Villa’s personality. Trapped in a small Mexican town while his plane is getting fixed, Lee develops a romantic connection with Fina (Grazia Buccella).

It has to thread a fine line between respecting Villa’s legacy while painting him as a flawed man

Pancho comes to the town looking for the men in the village opposed to his movement and conspiring with the opposition. Lee Arnold strikes a deal with Pancho when threatened with hanging, becoming a pilot for the military leader. At Pancho Villa’s side is his trusted, right-hand man Fierro, played by a strapping Charles Bronson. Villa informs Fierro that they need Arnold’s plane and skills as a pilot, despite the latter’s misgivings.

The best parts of Villa Rides! are its epic battles, shot spectacularly in classic spaghetti western fashion. Pancho Villa’s revolution has never been brought to life more vividly as Lee Arnold flies his small crop-duster plane over the Mexican Army and crashes in the middle of battle.

Less thrilling are its moments of political background on Pancho Villa. Mitchum is strangely distant and aloof as protagonist, his character is more ambivalent and unsure than most leading Hollywood roles from this time. It has to thread a fine line between respecting Villa’s legacy while painting him as a flawed man. Lee Arnold realizes at one point there is little difference between himself and Pancho Villa, outside of the larger-than-life image Villa carefully cultivated across the country.

Villa Rides! is solid Hollywood adventure and drama. While lacking the emotional coherence and steady plotting of the best filmmaking, Kulik’s movie works with several big stars in its cast.

Villa Rides Blu-ray screen shot 9

Video

Olive Films has licensed Villa Rides! from Paramount. The 1968 Panavision film was shot by cinematographer Jack Hildyard, who knew a thing or two about shooting historical epics from The Bridge on the River Kwai. The 1080p video is shown in the movie’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Villa Rides! runs an uncut 122 minutes, encoded in AVC on a BD-25.

This is a film-like presentation of a decent transfer. The elements are in respectable condition, if on the softer side with slightly reduced fine detail. Strong clarity and average definition mark the consistent picture quality. The AVC encode handles the grain structure without problems. A stable contrast and excellent color saturation make it a fine, vintage presentation.

Some minor edge enhancement is visible. This is an older transfer, possibly done on a telecine. The serviceable elements exhibit a modest amount of wear, largely leftover speckles. It doesn’t have the extreme detail possible from a new 2K film scan or a new color grading, but not every older film needs that level of intense restoration.

Villa Rides! is very watchable on Blu-ray and this is a nice upgrade from DVD.

Audio

The 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack offers soft dialogue and Jarre’s excellent score in full clarity. The mono mix emphasizes clean recording quality. Dialogue is clear but fairly low in volume compared to the more dynamic action cues. The battle and plane scenes offer a larger soundstage with more bass. The Hollywood production offers classic sound quality in better than expected audio.

Optional English subtitles appear in a white font inside the scope framing at all times.

Extras

No special features are included by Olive Films. The DVD from Paramount years ago didn’t have any special features.

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